From ground beef to chocolate, odds are you've got these every day foods in your fridge and pantry--but our insiders will show you how to use them in fun, fresh ways.



tips + how-tos


Ron Zimmerman 

Owner and founding chef, the Herbfarm Restaurant in Woodinville, WA

Experiment with herbs for dinner--and dessert.

Ron picks thyme for most versatile: He rubs it onto lamb chops and works it into tomato sauce to slather over pizza or pasta. Herbs will also awaken sweet dishes. "I love chopped sage mixed with honey and poured over melon, and mint with any flavor of ice cream," he says.

Add herbs to a dish at different stages.

Throw some in during the cooking, and add more just before finishing. This way, you'll pull out different depths of flavor from the herbs.

There's no reason to have leftover herbs lying around.

"People don't realize you can use lots of fresh herbs when cooking," says Ron. "Don't follow the recipe and don't bother measuring. Just toss them in and let nature's magic have its way."


Steve Jenkins

Cheesemonger at Fairway Markets and cookbook author in New York City

Give great cheese a chance.

His top three widely available picks are parmigiano-reggiano ("The single greatest cheese in the world. An entire genre of food--pasta--was built around it"); Humboldt Fog goat cheese ("It has the melt-in-your-mouth texture of ice cream that makes you want to lick it. Its piney, peppery flavors go well with tomatoes and cucumbers, or smoked salmon"); and Rogue River blue cheese ("It's smooth like butter and packs heat that dissipates into sweetness--exhale through your nose to capture all the flavors").

Treat cheese with TLC.

Wrap it in foil or wax paper and refrigerate it in the crisper drawer. Bring the wrapped cheese to room temperature (it will take about half an hour) before serving.

Don't Toss blemished cheese.

If your cheese develops surface mold or hardens, just cut it away. "Cheese is a living, breathing thing, so buy it in small quantities and buy it often," Steve says.


Janie Hibler

Food writer and cookbook author in Portland, OR

Berries are available year-round, but buy them in season (ahem, right now!).

You'll get the sweetest flavor and lowest prices. Freeze them in a single layer until firm before storing in resealable plastic bags for up to a year--except for blueberries, "which freeze like marbles" and can go straight into a freezer bag.

Serve fresh berries at room temperature to maximize their flavor.

Also, older strawberry plants turn out less flavorful fruit, so brighten any bland ones with a few drops of lemon or lime juice.

You can save a pint of moldy raspberries.

Trash the hairy culprits, then rinse the others, sprinkle them with sugar and stir gently. Let them sit for 20 minutes and use as a topping for ice cream or pancakes.


Mark Lobel

Butcher and co-owner, Lobel's in New York City

If you're not sure which ground beef to select, go with chuck.

"It'll work in any recipe," Mark says, "and has the most flavor and moisture." Sirloin, on the other hand, tends to be leaner. You can ask your butcher to blend the two if you want a juicy yet less fatty meal.

Ground beef should never come to room temperature -- whether at home or in the store.

Pick it up just before hitting the checkout line; the package should feel cold.

Leave your beef alone.

"When people mold their beef into patties or meatloaf, they just keep molding and molding!" says Mark. "The more you handle it, the tougher the meat." And step away from the spatula. "When I see people pressing down on a burger with that, it's like, 'Oh, my God, stop right there; you're squeezing all the juices out!"


Howard Helmer

Senior national representative, American Egg Board in New York City

Take eggs beyond breakfast.

They play nice with most foods, especially leftovers. "You can put practically anything in an omelet, strata, quiche or even a souffle," he says. Howard gussies up his eggs by stirring in 2 tablespoons dry white wine or any creamy salad dressing for every 2 to 3 eggs used in an omelet or scrambled eggs. Try any favorite condiments, like Tabasco sauce or Dijon mustard.

Hard-boiled eggs shouldn't stink.

It's boiling them too long that causes the sulfurous stench. To avoid that, place a single layer of eggs in a pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Pop on a lid, bring the water to a boil and then immediately remove the pot from the heat. Let the eggs stand, covered, for 14 minutes before plunging them into ice-cold water.

Yolks can burst when cracked into a hot pan for fried or poached eggs.

To keep the golden center intact, crack the egg into a small bowl before sliding it into the pan.


Randy Hartnell

Fisherman and president, in Bellingham, WA

Read labels.

Look for wild or Alaskan salmon (salmon farming is banned in Alaska, so it's always wild). Steer clear of salmon labeled "Atlantic," which is code for "farmed."

Don't overcook it.

Wild salmon takes less time to cook than farmed salmon. Use low to medium heat and keep an eye out for any sign of white, gelatinous bits -- this protein gets pushed to the surface when the fish begins to overcook, so immediately remove the fish from the heat.

Buy frozen, not fresh.

All fish is frozen once it's caught, but most stores will defrost the fish and market it as "fresh." Leaving the fish frozen and vacuum-sealed keeps it from breaking down and developing a fishy smell, which happens with age. Thaw salmon in the package by submerging it in cool water for 30 minutes, replacing the water twice.


Alice Medrich

Cookbook author and culinary educator in Berkeley, CA

Use the best chocolate you can afford.

Whenever you splurge on special chocolate, use simple recipes that don't use too much butter, cream, sugar or distracting spices that might mask the chocolate. "You want the chocolate to shine through," Alice says.

Milk chocolate and white chocolate may be substituted for one another in recipes, but sub in dark chocolate only when "used as chips or chunks that remain intact." For recipes that call for bittersweet or semisweet without specifying cacao percentage, use chocolate with no more than 62 percent cacao to prevent less-than-desirable results, such as a dry cake.

A white film, or "bloom," on chocolate is caused by temperature changes.

The chocolate's texture and taste may be affected, but if you melt it in a baking recipe, the flavor will return!